Another cool press release

Diana Boudreau, Fossil Preparator
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

PETRIFIED FOREST, Ariz., May 26, 2022 - Along Interstate 40, situated between the New Mexico border and Winslow, Arizona, sits the Painted Desert Visitors Center (PDVC) at the north end of Petrified Forest National Park. Its location draws in hundreds of thousands of travelers every year driving across the country in everything from tiny cars to giant U-Haul trucks. The PDVC provides a respite from the open road and a break from travels. But once visitors pass through the central courtyard, following the signs to the Museum Demonstration Lab, they embark on a different journey that takes them back in time.

The Museum Demonstration Lab (Demo Lab) is a space specifically designed to bring the paleontological discoveries and museum collections of Petrified Forest into public view. Paleontologists at Petrified Forest actively work with academic partners to reconstruct a detailed history of life during the Late Triassic, and exciting new research has resulted in the publication of multiple scientific manuscripts in just the last few years (e.g., Marsh et al. 2020; Kligman et al. 2021; Parker et al. 2021a, 2021b). The Demo Lab has been THE primary place for park staff to share these scientific discoveries with the public, often showcasing the fossils themselves before they even go on exhibit or into collections. Although commonly found Late Triassic fossils, such as phytosaurs and metoposaurs, can be seen on the bench in the Demo Lab, it is more likely that new and significant specimens are being prepared, housed, or exhibited for the public.

Some of the notable discoveries that have recently been “on the bench” in the Demo Lab include:
• Field jackets containing skull elements, vertebrae, limb bones, and other bones from the first azendohsaur (an extinct Triassic reptile distantly related to crocodiles) found in North America – a manuscript is currently being reviewed for publication in the Journal of Paleontology (Marsh et al. in review)
• New species of reptiles, lizards, fish, amphibians, freshwater sharks, and other animals from the Thunderstorm Ridge microvertebrate locality, which reveals a previously unknown diversity of taxa from the Chinle Formation and Late Triassic worldwide (i.e., Stocker et al. 2019; Jenkins et al. 2020; Kligman et al. 2020a; Kligman et al. 2020b)
• A well preserved, partial skeleton of the aetosaur (herbivorous crocodile relative) Calyptosuchus wellesi nicknamed “Gloria” including osteoderms (bony scutes), pelvis, and vertebrae
• Revueltosaurus callenderi material including a field jacket with a partial articulated skeleton, skull, and numerous other disarticulated elements (Parker et al. 2021a)
• Skulls of the metoposaur (extinct amphibian) Anaschisma browni, including the world’s largest, as well as the most complete skull from the park with 100+ teeth still rooted in the sockets of the upper jaw
The diversity and exceptionality of fossils on view in the Demo Lab and direct interaction with paleontologists is what makes it a must-see for visitors coming to Petrified Forest. In the past two years, the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, staff turnover, and ongoing PDVC construction projects have spurred the Demo Lab staff to adapt in order to continue providing this invaluable service for visitors.

Refining Wayfinding and Lab Aesthetics
The Demo Lab is located towards the back of the PDVC complex and can be difficult for visitors to find. Therefore, effective wayfinding to the Demo Lab has been a top priority. New sandwich board directional signs were designed to assist with wayfinding. These signs were also updated to accommodate the temporary relocation of the main PDVC lobby during a construction project at the end of 2021. Overall aesthetics of the lab were also improved by designing and installing custom curtains to hide the materials stored on the built-in shelves. The second window shade in the room was also opened, although only one staff member was present in the Demo Lab per day. The second work bench was utilized to display larger showy items, such as phytosaur skulls and large field jackets.